Monday, 8 November 2010

Even some of the good bits have to go!

In order to reduce Moon in Leo to a less "epic" length, we have had to cut quite a lot. This extract gives us an insight into why Simon is as he is, but doesn't contribute much to the main story. I thought readers might still be interested in his back-story- a mini saga of witchcraft and poor parenting

It was hard to guess why Goditha Rainbird had married a sickly creature like Edmund Challis. The offer and most of the arrangements for the marriage had come from her family and she seemed perfectly satisfied. She was a big handsome woman, strong enough to have steered a Viking ship across the North Sea as her ancestors had probably done. Also she was well-born and had a good dowry. She could have done better for a husband, even in those troubled times. She used to say, smiling, that she loved her own Essex country too much to marry away from it.
One answer to the question why a strong-willed, warm-blooded woman preferred a weak, dim-witted husband was never even hinted.
Simon had the delicate Challis features and fair colouring as well as his mother's robust health. No one doubted he was Edmund Challis' son. Also, though Goditha was on terms of friendly respect with most men, who admired her head for business and her skill with crops and stock, there was never the slightest sign of flightiness or lust in her. Indeed, her only weakness seemed to be her devotion to her son. She called him her 'little prince' and let him have everything he wanted.
The child, clever and sharp-eyed, was soon aware that in spite of all the local land-owners, justices and constables, Canewdon was ruled by a sisterhood, with his mother at their head. Before long he had picked out the others. At first he could not understand why those particular women should be in the group. It was not for their rank or money. His mother was gentry, so was the vicar's sister; there was a baronet's daughter, the wives of a couple of wealthy yeomen. But there were also women from cottages and fishermen's huts, a poor herb-grower, a pedlar. It was not their age and authority. The herb-woman was a crone but the baronet's daughter and one of the fisher-girls were hardly out of their childhood. Whatever it was, these nine held the power in Canewdon and for some miles around.
Simon had an instinct for power, even when he was very young. Knowing that power belonged to his mother and that she belonged to him, he believed that he was lord of Canewdon. Yet his mother had secrets with her sisterhood that she did not share with him. Usually, when she went visiting she took him with her, or brought him back some sweetmeats and a kiss from her hostess. Sometimes, though, she stayed out all night with never a word of where she went and enjoyed herself without him. He saw this as rebellion and treachery. He could have demanded that she confess. It was more satisfying to outwit her and catch her out.
One bright summer night, the last night of his childhood, he stayed awake after she had kissed him goodnight, listening for the house to fall quiet. Then he got out of bed, put his breeches and doublet over his nightshirt, climbed out of his window, scrambled along the branch of an ash-tree and perched there like a roosting bird until his mother, cloaked and hooded in black, came quietly out. He let her get well ahead before he came down the tree-trunk, then followed her into the darkness of the yew-walk, through the garden gate, along the hedge bordering the meadow, and so to the wood that grew down the slopes of Beacon Hill.
The shadows were closer and darker here, though the trees were dappled with moonlight, so he dared to come nearer his quarry. They too were not alone in the woods; other shadows were moving among the trees, all making towards the same place. None of the shadows said a word of greeting or gave any sign that it had seen the others, until they reached a clearing where a bonfire had been built. The shadows clustered round it. In a while a flame sprang up, the fire kindled and the shadows took off their cloaks.
Simon lay among the roots of an oak tree in the darkness outside the ring of firelight. He had slipped his arms out of his doublet and pulled it over his silver-bright hair. He was fighting with his giggles. This was more amusing than mummers' play; the masks were stranger. Also, it was funny to think of the maskers treading on brambles or stones with their bare feet when they danced, or getting nettle-stung or goose-pimpled in the cool night air in spite of the bonfire, with nothing on but those strips of rag and ribbon hanging down from the garlands on their heads.
When the feasting began, he was tempted to pounce out on them and claim his share of the good things. But he wasn't hungry, he'd eaten a hearty supper; also, he was enjoying a sense of mastery. He knew about them but they didn't know about him.
At first, he wasn't very surprised at the other happenings. He'd seen the cows going to bull and the stallion covering mares, though he'd not known till then that men and women did it in the same way.
The fear grew so slowly he couldn't be sure how or why it came. He saw nobody except the masked dancers; he knew they were only Canewdon folk and one of them his mother. If anyone - or anything - else appeared among the dancers, it must have been after he shut his eyes. Yet he knew there was more life in the circle round the bonfire than the villagers had brought with them. It came flooding into the glade like a tide; and it was in the woods behind him too, so that he dared not run away. The moon seemed to have come nearer the earth; the woodland creatures, the night birds, even the moths, had gathered for the meeting. The trees were astir and peering through the shadows to find him; their roots were quivering, their branches groping. If he made the least noise or movement, they would clutch him.
By the end he had his face pressed against the ground, his fingers digging into the earth. At last the fiddle stopped, then the pipe and tabor, the pad and slap of dancing feet, the cries and the laughter. The crackling and flare of the flames had died down. He opened his eyes.
The moon had set. In the dusk before dawn, the shadows, cloaked again, were leaving the glade as quietly as they had come. He was almost too stiff to move but made himself get up and go after them rather than be left alone in the wood. He followed the one tall shadow that glided along the hedge towards his garden gate, then down the yew walk. After waiting till he was sure she was inside the house, he climbed back through his window and into bed.
Then, every time he shut his eyes, he was back in the wood staring at the firelit glade. He was terrified that he was going to see the Power that he had felt coming and had shut his eyes to escape. Now, he had to keep his eyes open to escape it, so he lay and watched the sky grow bright.
When his mother saw him, he was heavy-eyed and yawning. She remarked on it.
"I couldn't get to sleep. The moon got in my room. You forgot to draw my curtains."
"My poor little prince. I'll take better care tonight. But the best way of getting a good sleep all through the night is to stay in bed."
He looked at her warily and saw that she knew. She was smiling, she wasn't cross. His courage came back. Though she ruled everybody else, she was still his subject.
"Why were the men and women doing that?"
"Helping the crops grow. Making sure the cattle have healthy stock, that the rivers are full of fish and the fishing-boats come safely to land. And paying our respects to the Lady."
"To Lady Essex?"
"To the Queen of Earth and Heaven."
His eyes widened. "Are you a Papist?"
Goditha laughed. "They wouldn't say so. I worship the Lady, the giver of life. She brings everything out of her womb and takes it all back into herself. She's the mistress of all tides and seasons. All women are her priests and all men serve her. She is everything, she gives everything, she does everything."
Simon giggled. He was clever and completely sure of himself, because nobody had ever checked him. He had not long been breeched; he stuck his fingers in his waistband and straddled his legs, a real man.
"Oh no, she doesn't! She can't."
Goditha's smile vanished. She spoke very softly. "What's that?"
He tilted his chin to outstare her. His eyes were insolent. "I saw what they did last night. It's the same as the stone-horse does with the mares and the bull with the cows. And they have to wait till he's ready. Females are undermales - that's in the Bible. You have to wait for us. You can't do anything till we choose."
"Can't we? Oh can't we?"
She dragged him up across her knees and pulled his breeches down. He expected a beating and fought against the outrage, but she held him down with one powerful arm and he was helpless. She kept him pinned down on his back and set about tickling and teasing his little prick until, in spite of his will, it stood up obediently for her, as powerless under her hand as he was.
"Can't we?" She said again, grimly: "If I ever hear you talk about the Lady like that again, I'll bring the others to you."
Suddenly she hugged him. "Even princes have to obey the Queen, my darling."
She set him on his feet and fastened his breeches.
"Cook's baking cherry tarts. Go and ask her to give you one. Tell her I said so. Run along - and don't come to another sabbat till you're invited."
He moved to go.
"Give me a kiss first."
He obeyed, but he never forgave her. He was a sensitive, proud little boy. She had damaged his pride and destroyed his belief that she was devoted to him. His selfhood was wounded. He couldn't turn to his father; he had no brothers to share with; his dignity would not let him confide in any of the menservants. So the wound festered, skinned over with a show of duty and affection.

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